After giving a talk on owls at Lake Laurentian’s Owl Prowl earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak to Melissa, one of Sudbury’s high school science teachers.
She told me of the late spring tale of a bird feeder that was very attractive to the local birds, but also invited an unwelcome visitor which prompted an answer to the question of this article.
To feed or not to feed?
Few can argue that the running of a bird feeder in late fall, and winter provides a wealth of entertainment to the observers and an advantageous supplement to the diet of winter bird populations.
This is particularly true in severe cold and deep snow winters. Black-capped chickadees are perhaps one of the most common species present to utilize those prized peanuts and black sunflower seeds that graze the multitudes of bird feeder designs that are out there.
In nature, the hardy chickadees move in family groups foraging for overwintering insects. If you watch the birds carefully, you can see how versatile they are at finding cocoons adhered to bark crevices and window sills alike.
While talking to someone in a well-windowed office, I once was distracted in conversation (not cellphone) by a chickadee “working” the cap trim of the building as it moved along the office window. Not a big deal you say. The bird was up at the fifth floor level of the building.
The spring migration brings large flocks of migrating blackbirds and sparrows. Like nature’s vacuum cleaners, they will quickly clean up seeds that have accumulated on the ground over the winter as the snow clears. This is a real bonus for yard maintenance.
Should we maintain feeders during the late spring and summer becomes the question. There are arguments that if you do, you are interfering with the “normal” lifestyle of the users of these feeders. However, others have noted that winter visitors, like the chickadee, are drawn away from the feeders to establish territories, nests and family.
Natural food becomes abundant, and the need to visit feeders becomes less obvious. The winter finches such as the common redpoll and pine grosbeak, leave the area entirely, for nesting much further north. New visitors arrive, and they may have fur, not feather.
Inevitably it becomes a choice of the individual. It also becomes a question about where your feeder is located. This brings us back to the start of the story.
Melissa told me that her uninvited guest actually sat down by the metal feeder pole, spread eagled and bent it right back so that it could lick the contents that were left there. The visitor was big and black. Needless to say Melissa’s choice was to suspend operations until the next winter. Of course, if you are a bear watcher ….
Perhaps Monica, one of our readers said it best for her city feeder: “I filled the feeders on Saturday, perhaps for the last time before the bears make their presence known [sigh!].”
Questions for The Birdman
Frustrated Feeder writes: Hello Chris, for years I've read of the need birds have for water during the winter months, so I finally purchased a heated birdbath. It has been in operation for five days and the birds aren't interested at all. Chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, siskins, gold finches, woodpeckers etc., are all common to the feeders less than five metres away, but they aren't thirsty! What gives?
The Birdman responds:
How large a bowl is it? Do you have an elevated platform or rock in the middle so the birds can stand in it while testing the water? I usually place my summer bird bath near cover as the birds can be preyed upon if they are in too open a space. I would keep on trying and maybe move the location if it looks a little obvious.
Chris Blomme is an executive member of the Sudbury Ornithological Society and works with animals at Laurentian University. Have a question for Chris? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.